Sunday, April 4, 2010

Metaphysics argument 1 -

Although a student of Objectivism, I don’t hold it to be the Ultimate Truth. I only adhere to its principles because they carry incredible clarity and truth in reality. That being said, I am on the lookout for solid objections (from philosophers or any other) of Objectivism to prove it wrong.

Surfing the Internet for critiques is difficult to do. There are much more instances of people alluding to the “obvious inconsistencies of Objectivism” than there are of people stating, or hinting at stating the actual inconsistencies. This is frustrating because apparently there are a lot of people that know the problems, but no one says them out loud.

I did find a good web page that has a whole lot of critiques here and because any philosophical system has to begin with a foundation, I started looking at metaphysical criticisms. My goal in going through this website is to look at each objection and see if I can come up with something that can prove Objectivism right. This has already required me to strain and improve my understanding of Objectivism, but has become neat thought exercises.

(Note: For each of these exercises, I have NOT gone into the criticisms with the explicit purpose of defending Objectivism. I am trying to defend reality, as I know it using logic and reason. If one of these arguments holds ground and I cannot defend a specific portion of Objectivism, then I am willing to concede that the philosophy needs modification. The goal of me doing this is to find answers, not test dogmas.

Further, if any reader finds incorrect conclusions or further arguments, I eagerly await their response. Once again, the purpose of this is to exercise my brain and find a better understanding of reality. I am doing this to the best of my ability, as my free time allows.)

The first argument found here is presented by Robert Bass and is summarized (by me) as follows:

Objectivist metaphysics holds three necessary claims in its metaphysics:
1. Time is not cyclical (it does not repeat itself)
2. There are no infinities – every real thing can be measured as a finite amount
3. Every action is caused by some preceding action (cause and effect)

Bass argues that these three tenets cannot exist together and any two of them will contradict the third:

1 and 2. If time is not cyclical and there are no infinities, then if you follow the chain of cause and effect back far enough, then you will reach the beginning of time and there will exist some initial, uncaused, action. It will be uncaused because nothing would have existed before it (the beginning of time).

2 and 3. Because there is a finite amount of time and because every action has to have some antecedent factors, then time must circle back around and repeat itself. A causes B which causes C which causes A, and so on. In this way, time can be finite but just repeat itself.

1 and 3. Finally, if time is not cyclical and every action has to be caused by some preceding action then there has to be an infinity: time.

In conclusion, Bass states that because any two of these contradict the third, that this represents a flaw in Objectivist metaphysics.

Now, let me take a stab at my rebuttal to this statement. You might already have figured out where I am going with it by my summary of the article.

The whole argument summarized above falls apart if you modify or elaborate on point 2 mentioned: there are no infinities. Yes, most things in reality do not contain an infinite number of anything (i.e. there is a finite number of particles in an apple) and anything that is represented with infinity (an infinite series in mathematics) is an abstract concept that has to be tied to a real, finite object.

This point falls apart when you consider two things, though: time and space. Think of how you would measure the particles in an apple; this would be an incredibly difficult and time-consuming task, but you could conceivably sit down and keep track of every atom that is in a certain apple and, at the end of the day, come up with a finite number of the number of particles in an apple.

Similarly, suppose you went about and wanted to measure the dimensions of your house and all you had was a ruler. You would pick some reference point and from there go in one direction until you hit a wall. Taking note of how far you went and in which relative direction, you go back to the reference point for the other walls and so on. With this method you could figure out the relation of the walls to each other, where the bathrooms are located, where the refrigerator is, etc… Once again, you could find some finite numbers that would correspond to the dimension of your house.

Now, let’s extend that to all space. How would you measure all space? First, we have to take a snapshot in time (this was assumed during our other measurements) to get rid of the idea of and expanding universe. Now, let’s try the same method as before (the only method that seems reasonable) and see what happens. Starting in your house and picking a reference point, you begin measuring. You quickly find yourself outside of your house, a little bit farther you have your ruler and are measuring the lower orbit of earth, farther and you have left our solar system, the milky way galaxy and so on. You have surpassed all the other galaxies and are so far away that when you look behind, you only see a speck of light that is the universe.

Are you at the edge of space? Can you look down and find your finite number for the dimensions of space? No. You can never reach the end of space. By your presence there, space is “extended” farther.

Re-imagine yourself measuring your house and this time, instead of you reaching a wall, you put your ruler down, look up, and the wall is still the same distance away that it was before. You think the wall is only one foot away when you measure 20 feet, but when you measure 21 feet the wall still looks a foot away. Being stubborn, you measure 22, 23, 24 feet and look up and the wall is still a foot away!! Space is the same way.

You are essentially trying to measure space plus one. Each time you get to what you think is the edge (assuming you are actually at an edge) and put your ruler down, space is extended that much farther by your presence. In this way, you can never reach the edge of space to measure it and you will also never know you are even close what “the edge” is.

Space is everything that encompasses the universe; this includes you. You can never reach a wall that is the edge because that would imply that you could go beyond the wall and therefore exit space. Since you are part of the universe, space must contain you and you can never leave it or find a boundary. This goes for anything else in the universe.

In this way, space can be considered infinite. It is like asking the question: what is infinity plus one? Well, infinity.

Getting to the edge of space and measuring one foot from there, you are still at the edge of space. This is a similar way in which time behaves. It would be like asking: what is the time one minute from now? I could give you an answer down to some ridiculous precision of numbers (say 12:42.54), but when that minute came around, my answer would be wrong because a minute from 12:43.54 is now 12:44.54. This could be continued on an on to no end.

The same would happen in the opposite direction of going backwards in time. There is always one second farther back than at any point when I might be.

So, time is infinite and space is infinite. The definitions of each require that they contain (within them) everything. If it exists in time and/or space it cannot measure dimensions of either.

Now, since there are two infinites, Objectivist metaphysics holds and Bass’ argument is faulty.

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